After one of the longest and most active “silly seasons” we’ve seen in recent memory, the driver market dominoes have fallen, and the final pieces of the 2016 V8 Supercars driver grid are now in place. With more than half the field in new teams or cars, expectation for the new season is higher than ever. While there are many drivers and debutants looking to make a serious impression on the Championship, we’ve picked five championship contenders (in no particular order) we think will surely rise to be the cream of the crop and put themselves in contention to lift the trophy at the end of the season.
1. Chaz Mostert
Chaz Mostert may have spectacularly crashed out of title contention last season, but if his past speed and consistency are anything to go by, he should be making a regular appearance at the front of the pack this year. Despite sitting out nearly one-third of the season, Ford’s young hero still notched up the most pole positions in 2015, winning five races in the process. Just before his season-ending smash at the Bathurst 1000, he was fast closing in on his team-mate’s championship lead. Making a return to competitive karting as part of his racing rehabilitation, the 23-year-old qualified on pole in the 19-kart field and won all three races, building on his confidence going in to this season.
2. Shane Van Gisbergen
Shane Van Gisbergen stormed onto the V8 Supercars scene in 2007 and has since made a big impact on the series. Despite his hot form in the COTF generation, the flying Kiwi is still to win a championship title. This year, he moves to Triple Eight Race Engineering, arguably the best team on the grid and occupying the optimal garage spot to boot. While sometimes seen to be a loose unit, the ‘Giz’ has often been the driver to beat, being consistent and entertaining to watch. His move to the top class team as well as his dexterity across multiple categories, most notably as a factory McLaren driver, helping Von Ryan Racing to victory in the Blancpain Endurance Series at Silverstone and at the Nürburgring, before winning the Bathurst 12 Hour in the Tekno Autosports McLaren, means van Gisbergen should be a force to be reckoned with in 2016.
3. Will Davison
Will Davison has been on the short end of the stick in recent years, driving for the ailing Erebus squad. His earlier stint at Prodrive Racing Australia (then Ford Performance Racing) ended when he was shifted to make room for the talented Mostert, but not without beating Winterbottom in the championship standings first. While he has always been a fast driver, luck hasn’t always been on his side. In the right machinery, he could be a champion. This year, he has that chance, moving to Tekno Autosports in a Triple Eight-built Holden, and sharing a garage with the evergreen Craig Lowndes. A quick car, the will to win and a good team can help him towards taking out the driver’s title.
4. Scott McLaughlin
Scott McLaughlin may be young but as he has shown in previous years, he has the talent to win in many circumstances. Reliability issues hampered his 2014 and 2015 seasons, leaving him with just four and zero wins respectively. With his Volvo hopefully sorted this year, as well as his good friend James Moffat providing some competition, McLaughlin has the chance to not only bag a few wins but string a season together and come home strong. His car suits his driving style, one of the most important things for a racing driver to have. This year, he’ll be hoping to improve on his best season result of fifth.
5. Jamie Whincup
Jamie Whincup is the name that won’t go away. The six-time champion always finds a way to put himself into contention to win almost no matter what the circumstances. Since joining Triple Eight in 2006, he has won six driver’s titles and twice finished second, not a bad effort for someone who was once dumped by Garry Rogers after crashing out at Bathurst. He is second on the all-time winners list; only six behind his more experienced team-mate Lowndes. Whincup will have to bounce back from his worst season since 2006, but unless something out of the ordinary happens this year, he will undoubtedly surpass the 100 win barrier which can only bring up the debate whether or not he is the greatest of all time.
While there are many good drivers in the paddock, these five have the most to prove this season. Other honourable mentions go to reigning champion Mark Winterbottom and Craig Lowndes. Winterbottom took the 2015 crown and Lowndes’ consistency kept him in title contention through to the season’s penultimate day. Both will surely be there at the end of the season, but could their recent lack of that killer edge play into others’ hands? We also predict big things for DJR Team Penske this season. It was great to see Scott Pye up at the business end of the field at the back end of the season. And with the experience Fabian Coulthard brings could the team net some race wins in 2016?
Agree? Disagree? Have we missed anybody? Share your own predictions with us uing the comment box below.